There’s a saying that’s been around for a long time that goes something like this: “God created man in his image, and then man returned the favor.” The suggestion is that our god is what we want him to be, a reflection of what we think is right and good. For me, this explains much of the behavior we see around us.
This week, the world has been rocked (or at least a significant tremor felt) by the findings of a report on the Southern Baptist Convention and how sexual abuse has been handled. There’s no need for me to go over the discoveries. If you’re interested enough to read this article, you’ve already read about this. Let’s just summarize by saying there has been a lot of sexual abuse happening involving church leaders, and those in charge didn’t care.
Those who had the power to put a stop to the behavior chose not to disrupt things, probably out of fear of losing their place at the table. At least, I like to think that because the only other reason for their silence is that they thought the behavior was a good thing. It’s the same thing that allowed similar conduct to continue in the Catholic Church for so long. People close to power don’t want to risk losing their power, even if it means accepting disgusting behavior.
The report documents allegations of a pastor, one month after being president of the SBC, who sexually assaulted another pastor’s wife. She knew about it, her husband knew about it, and a church counselor knew about it, but no one said anything. The report describes how he kissed her, touched her breasts, pulled down her shorts, and then declared, “Thank God I didn’t consummate the relationship.” Is he really thanking God for keeping him from penetrating her? This is a man who was elected president of the SBC.
The abusing pastor asked for their silence because he didn’t want to hurt or impact the 40,000 churches he represented. Let’s just all forgive and forget, pretend nothing happened, no harm, no foul.
How does this happen? What makes people recognized as spiritual/religious leaders do such heinous things? I know we all do rotten things, but it’s a special kind of rottenness that allows a man to stand before people as a “man of God” knowing he is guilty of doing some of the most ungodly things.
“Perhaps these things happen because the god these guys serve is of their own creation.”
But are they really ungodly things? Perhaps these things happen because the god these guys serve is of their own creation. They have created a god that allows and encourages this type of behavior. Their god doesn’t respect women unless they are submissive at home, silent at church, and sexually available when needed.
These men have cut their teeth in the abortion battles, sharpening their skills by denying a woman’s right to control her own body. These men have devised a system that allows women to teach children and other women but refuses to allow a woman in the pulpit unless she’s announcing plans for vacation Bible school. These men pat themselves on the back for not allowing women to serve as a deacon (not that most Baptist deacons do much serving). Sure, serve the potluck dinners, but when we’re all fed, you clean up the kitchen, and we’ll conduct the business of the church.
We’ve recently read about John MacArthur, not a Baptist in name but certainly one in theology and behavior, who insisted a woman stay with her husband despite frequent beatings and sexual abuse of her children. The woman finally came to her senses, called the police instead of her church, and had her abusive husband sent to jail. MacArthur continues to stand by his advice.
These men thrive in a system that worships a god they created. A god who considers women inferior, created to fulfill the needs of men. A god who says it’s fine if you want to fondle another man’s wife but who will keep you from going too far. I still can’t believe he said, “Thank God I didn’t consummate the relationship.” What did God have to do with any of that?
Their god is unlike the God Jesus came to reveal. Jesus showed us that God respects women. Jesus enjoyed the company of women, lifted them up when they were maliciously accused by the men in their world, praised their generosity, and ultimately trusted them with the most powerful sermon ever preached, “Jesus has risen from the dead!”
“Their god is unlike the God Jesus came to reveal.”
The SBC is in trouble. For years, the leadership has been serving a god of their own creation. But the problem is not just the sexually abusing leaders. The problem is much more expansive. It includes those who lacked wisdom, spiritual insight and common sense by allowing men like that to attain their positions. You can’t tell me there wasn’t a significant-sized contingent around the president of the SBC who knew this man was not qualified to be a spiritual leader. The only way evil people are allowed to have positions of power and influence is because good people turn a blind eye.
It happens all the time. Churches are ecstatic that the church is growing and numbers and offerings are increasing because of the charismatic pastor. It’s easy to overlook warning signs when everything else is good. Political parties are energized when a candidate inspires large crowds of voters and don’t care if he’s immoral. Businesses tolerate a ruthless CEO as long as the bottom line moves higher and higher.
The SBC is having its annual meeting next month. If they don’t take significant steps to remedy this problem, you need to find a group that serves the true God. By significant action, I don’t mean a resolution stating sexual abuse is a horrible thing that will not be tolerated. I mean action that looks much like what happened when the people of Nineveh heard the preaching of Jonah:
Then the people of Nineveh believed in God; and they called a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them. When the word reached the king of Nineveh, he got up from his throne, removed his robe from himself, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat on the dust. And he issued a proclamation, and it said, “In Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles: No person, animal, herd, or flock is to taste anything. They are not to eat, or drink water. But every person and animal must be covered with sackcloth; and people are to call on God vehemently, and they are to turn, each one from his evil way, and from the violence which is in their hands. Who knows, God may turn and relent, and turn from his burning anger so that we will not perish.” (Jonah 3:5-9)
Terry Austin says from his first day of life he was taught to love the church. He has lived out that passion in various ways as a pastor, church consultant, author and critic. He is currently a full-time writer and book publisher and actively engaged with house churches.
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